June 5th, 2012
The Palace of Versailles was once the seat of power of the Kings of France. It is a very elaborate place, with a large collection of art and set on vast palace grounds of gardens, the grand canal, ponds, fountains and more. The gardens cover some 800 hectares of the 1,070 hectare site and took 40 years to complete (started in 1661)! The various buildings and palaces were built in a number of phases between 1664 and 1710 (prior to this time it was just a hunting lodge for King Louis XIII). During my trip to France I could not miss making a visit to Versailles.
King Louis XIV (1638-1715) moved the royal court from Paris to Versailles in 1682 and it remained as such until the French Revolution (1789-1799). The last King of France Louis XVI was executed in 1793. Luckily in 1794 the palace was granted protection, art works etc. were stored there and the palace eventually became a museum – this of course does not mean a large part of the royal collection was not sold off, taken etc. The most important parts of the collection were retained though.
The main royal residences at Versailles were the palace itself and the smaller Grand Trianon (built in 1687 to have a residence with less pomp than the main palace) and Petite Trianon (the latter is closely linked to Queen Marie-Antoinette and was truly her domain from 1774 onwards). The art works and palaces themselves are impressive and of course the main palace is the showpiece with its famous Hall of Mirrors and the King’s Grand Apartment that can not be missed.
When Napoleon Bonaparte came to power the status of the museum was changed, artworks were relocated and the palace became home to the new Emperor and was designated an imperial palace from 1804 to 1830 (he chose to reside in the Grand Trianon). Essentially since then it has once again been a museum (apart from various wartime uses as a headquarters etc.) and is today a major tourist destination of France (it has also been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979).
The Grand Trianon is no slouch either (it could also be called the “Marble Trianon” with its pink marble columns and walls)! It is also cool to see the study of Napoleon in the Grand Trianon.
The Petite Trianon (the Queens Palace) is a more understated residence. It was more a place for Marie-Antoinette to escape from the daily happenings of the Royal Court.
Throughout the day the various fountains in the palace gardens stop and start to provide a water spectacle (from the end of March to the end of October they are accompanied with music). The French royals must have been somewhat obsessed with fountains as they are everywhere! The gardens themselves are well maintained and give you some idea of the opulence that existed in the times of the Kings of France. As this is France you are of course not allowed to step on the well manicured lawns (my friend and many other attendees can attest to that as you will hear a shrill whistle from the guards)!
The Palace of Versailles is a pretty expensive place to visit and you have to pay extra to visit the gardens and smaller palaces, but it is well worth it and can be easily done as a day trip from Paris (it is a long day though, with so much to see and large crowds to contend with). A tip to save some money is take the Metro to Pont de Sèvres (at the end of Metro line 9) then a local bus that 30 minutes later stops opposite the main palace gates. With so many people about, waiting to go to the toilet can be an onerous experience, so if you see one with a short queue do not miss the chance! Oh and grab a baguette and coffee in the kiosks amongst the gardens – much cheaper than the cafe’s within the palace!